Function of the uropygial gland in eiders (Somateria mollissima)

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  • Anders Pape Møller, Key Laboratory of Biodiversity Sciences and Ecological Engineering, Beijing Normal University, Université Paris-Sud 11
  • ,
  • Karsten Laursen

Background: The uropygial gland is an exocrine gland located above the tail of birds that produces a diverse range of biochemicals. It has been hypothesized to be involved in chemical protection, water-proofing and maintenance of plumage brightness. Although these not necessarily mutually exclusive functions have received some empirical support, there has been little empirical research on the function of water-proofing. Methods: Here we analyzed data for 229 individual eiders (Somateria mollissima) collected by Danish hunters during 2016-2018. Results: The Eider is a sea-duck that spends almost its entire life in sea water emphasizing water-proofing of the plumage. The size of the uropygial gland increased with body mass in males, but not in females, and it increased with age. The size of the uropygial gland decreased during winter. Eiders with small uropygial glands grew their feathers at a fast rate. Eiders with large wing areas had large uropygial glands. Conclusions: These findings are consistent with large uropygial glands playing a role in water-proofing during molt and foraging, but also that uropygial glands may play a role in chemical defense.

Original languageEnglish
Article number24
JournalAvian Research
Number of pages6
Publication statusPublished - 5 Jul 2019

    Research areas

  • Anti-microbial substance, Eider, Somateria mollissima, Uropygial gland, Water-proofing

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